Celestion SL700 loudspeaker Page 4

As good as I felt the Celestion SL700 to be, there were still some problem areas. First was a thickening in the bottom of the lower midrange that became noticeable at high levels. I thought at first that this was due to the Linn 'table—"paranoia strikes deep"—but it was apparent also on CD. At the time of writing, however, it needs a lot more listening to determine whether this is a characteristic of the SL700s or whether it was due to my new room, the VTL amplifiers, the Monster M1 cable, or a combination of all three. Second, I started off my listening sitting closer to the speakers than the 7' I ended up with, but the sound was then too forward in the upper midband. It seems that the '700s need a little space for the sounds from the two drivers to integrate properly.

But to return to the auditioning, anyone can throw a handful of audiophile recordings at a component and come up with a review opinion. However, if I think I'm on the trail of something hot, I prefer not to play audiophile recordings. Why? One, because I think that it is more valid test to play a real-world record, with all its faults; two, if I'm going to spend a lot of time listening to records, then I would prefer that they had some music in the grooves. My auditioning of the Celestions, which had started off with a handful of recordings of known quality—the Wilson Audio Beethoven violin sonata, the HFN/RR Test CD, the Sheffield Lab Mozart wind ensemble recording—rapidly expanded as the speaker's sheer listenability, coupled with its ability to present detail without shining a spotlight on the recording, tempted me to put on LPs that hadn't seen the light of day for years.

For example, take the final LP from the original Traffic lineup, Last Exit from 1969. Many, I'm sure, would point to the 1967 Mr. Fantasy as the definitive Traffic LP, but my choice is Exit, the second side of which is the real stuff, unlike the post-processed pap that passes for live recordings these days. Recorded at the Fillmore West and produced by Jimmy Miller, this side, when played over speakers like the SL700s, gives the listener as vivid an impression of the concert as if he or she had been up there on stage, hiding behind a PA stack.

It opens with good old lighting buzz, 60Hz hum, and Hammond organ tone-wheel breakthrough, just as in real life. Sporadic handclaps, left-hand organ bass vamping—maybe it's even pedals—typically loose Jim Capaldi drumming, and flute noodlings from Chris Wood lead the listener into a shattering reworking of a Lesley Bricusse/Anthony Newley song, "Feelin' Good." Yet the balance is perversely ridiculous: Stevie Winwood's voice floats higher than high, sure enough, but the dominant instruments in the mix are the organ and a ride cymbal; Wood's saxophone, on the right of the stage and set well back, apparently behind the front-line amplification, is on the edge, but not over it, of inaudibility, even during his solo when it is supported by absurdly LOUD, LOUD, LOUD Hammond riffing from Winwood; and levels go up and down randomly, as though the engineer couldn't work out which fader affected which instrument.

(In the next track, "Blind Man," there is a cone-shattering organ blast as the engineer pushes up the wrong fader in a vain attempt to give the sax some level. He finally brings up the mike on Capaldi's ride cymbal instead, so that it sounds like a fizzy gong, but by this time who's counting? The soundstage presented by the SL700s is so real that you forgive the faults, just as you would have done at the original event.)

When the band changes gear for the fuzz organ solo, dropping from A minor to G minor, a 19-year-old shiver went down my back; after they'd found their way back up a tone so that Stevie could take his keyboard for a little walk about the home key before the colla voce ending, I would have sworn that Nixon was still President, that Rolling Stone still had integrity, and that the transistor was just an ugly rumor.

"Well, surprisingly enough we did it!" apologizes Stevie, the audience claps politely, and you're left wondering what went wrong with popular recording in the two decades since that San Francisco concert.

That is the kind of musical experience typical of a listening session with the SL700s.

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